Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Challenge of the Five Realms: River, Phoenix

Ah, the glamor of adventuring.
         
As we wrapped up the last session, the party had emerged from the undersea kingdom of Thalassy with the emperor's crown and the emperor himself. That was the second crown out of five that we need to retrieve before confronting Grimnoth.

This session began with the party moving on to Thornkeep. Despite its name, it wasn't so much a "keep" as a collection of houses. The residents belong to an odd cult called the Children of Shamar. They believe that the return of the ancient Emperor Shamar is at hand. The populace seemed divided as to whether I am an obstacle to his return or the vessel of it. This is a good place to note something that I have forgotten to highlight in previous entries: In any given village, about half the NPCs are indoors, where they're relatively easy to find, but another half wander fixed territories in the outdoor map. Sometimes, their territories seem boundless, and if you're looking for a specific NPC, it can be hard to track him down. This was a "feature" of MegaTraveller 2 as well.

Ultimately, in Shamar's Temple, we found a priest named Malocchius. He was the grandson of the Malocchius who had cursed the knights of Commington Forest, turning them into trees. He gladly gave us the Ring of Transformation to undo the curse.
          
Damn it. This would have been the perfect closing screenshot for my previous entry ("Sins of the Father"). If only I'd played 15 more minutes.
          
The head of the cult asked us to retrieve the sacred Scrolls of Shamar in return for the Spell of Restoration, which ages ago Cagliostra said I would need to defeat Grimnoth. The scrolls are supposedly hidden on the grounds of Castle Thiris (which I already visited and found empty), but a descendant of one of the builders of the castle might know where they're hidden. He is north, in Arinor.

It was time to go back to Commington Forest. As I transitioned between the two locations, Duke Gormond's knights attacked me but weren't very hard. After their defeat, a quick screen showed Gormond "seething in anger." I can't wait to deal with him.
          
Keep sending them, though. They're good practice.
        
Back in Commington, the Ring of Transformation did its job and the trees became knights again. They immediately offered to join my party. I can't remember who I dismissed (one of the Monteplai prisoners, I think), but I was surprised to see that the result was a group of five knights in my party, sharing a single character portrait and inventory screen. Although they show up as a collective, you must individually place them on the battle screen. You also have to amass a stack of five of whatever you want them to equip before they can equip weapons, armor, shields, and other items. I don't think I've ever seen anything quite like it in an RPG.
            
A collective "NPC."
       
With the trees gone, we were able to pierce further into Commington Forest, until we found a portal in one of its clearings. It took us to the elven kingdom of Fraywood, a realm "filled with mischief and magic," as Cagliostra reported from her mirror. She said that in addition to the crown, we would need a symbol of "the innocence and goodness of this realm"--perhaps the horn of a unicorn. Unfortunately, unicorns will only appear to virgins.
           
Everyone uncomfortably avoids looking at Chesotor.
         
In conversation with NPCs, it transpired that power in the elven kingdom is based on one's ability to tell jokes and pull pranks. Some wit recently pulled a good one on the new king, Wilric, by slipping a laxative into the food served at his father's wake. (Grimnoth apparently killed him, too.) King Wilric was still stewing over this humiliation when we met him, plus he was concerned about the men burning sections of Commington Forest. (We had met them in the last session; they all claimed my father hired them.) The elves' souls are apparently linked to the trees in the forest. For his help, he wanted me to identify the prankster who had embarrassed him and to stop the destruction of the forest.
         
I had to return to the surface to deal with the forest burners. One made me kill him, another wouldn't leave unless I bribed him, and a third (who said he had always felt guilty about the job) agreed to stop based on a moral argument alone.
           
This one was not long for this world.
          
Finding the prankster took several steps. We had to first find the alchemist that sold him the Dyell Root (the laxative). I had to threaten him to reveal the buyer: the king's cousin, Brodo. Upon hearing this information, King Wilric concocted his revenge. He had me go to a different apothecary and purchase a large amount of Broche powder, which causes uncontrolled urination.

Brodo confessed to the entire plot when I confronted him, but he was still dumb enough to take a tankard of ale from me. Soon, he was wetting his pants and unable to control it. Despite the fact that his "revenge prank" was both derivative of and less impressive than the original, King Wilric was overjoyed and joined the party, contributing the third crown.
               
Bathroom humor wins the day.
          
During these adventures, we encountered a female elf named Gwin whose father had locked her in a chastity belt before getting killed in a prank gone bad. She asked my help finding its key. Her father's friend, Tyrnoth, agreed to help us for 27 gold pieces. But when we followed his directions by entering a particular house north of the castle, we accidentally freed a "shaggy beast" that we then had to kill. Embarrassingly, I spent a lot of time afterwards digging up the floor before I realized the entire thing had been a prank.
        
One for you, Tyrnoth.
     
I eventually resorted to casting "Truth" spells to figure out who could help me. It turned out to be Rianen, Gwin's sister, who had been jealous of Gwin's beauty. Rianen found the directions to the key among her father's effects, but she couldn't read it because it was written in an ancient elven language. My Ring of Translation did the trick, although as you'll see below, it's unclear exactly how.
           
What part of this was "written in an ancient elven language"?
      
I dug up the key at the indicated location and returned it to Gwin, who joined the party in gratitude. Assuming she was the virgin needed to lure a unicorn, I wondered how we were going to find a unicorn, but it turned out that I didn't need to worry: one showed up the moment we left Gwin's hut. The beast sacrificed itself to allow us to gather it's horn, an act that I hadn't imagined was necessary until that moment. I'm reminded of how I didn't realize that the bull was killed at the end of a bullfight until I was well past the age of 30.
          
This doesn't feel good at all.
       
I also met an elf named Turry Startide who described himself as a "muse." "Before the portal closed," he said, "I frequently appeared to human creators and aided their imaginations." Recalling the novelist's request in Silvermoor, I added Turry to my party and took him with me when I went back to the surface to deal with the forest-burners. The author, Dorian Schick, was delighted to have a muse and gave me a diamond in return. This went into my spell components and allowed me access to a few new spells, including "Resurrection."

Another NPC elf was named "Woody," had the portrait of Woody Allen, and spoken in Allen-esque quips about his inability to attract women. After a few pages of one-liners (ex: "She hates jokes. I asked her to go for a walk with me in the woods and she said, 'Don't make me laugh'"), he gave me his collected Comedic Works. I remembered some gnome back in Alveola who wanted a book of jokes, but upon revisiting the gnome kingdom, I couldn't find whoever it was.
             
This was a little too on-the-nose.
       
We returned to Alonia through the portal and moved on to the next stop in our exploration pattern: the Cathedral of Equus. Our trip was short. The cathedral was completely deserted, and I could find no sign of the monks and nothing to do. Later, in Havenshire, the mother of one of the monks told me of rumors that the monks had turned to sorcery and it was they who had summoned Grimnoth.
          
It was a nice graphic, though.
        
Thus, we continued on to the harbor village of Galraven, across a narrow channel from Gormond's castle of Vinazia. I found some shops and spent some time selling amassed equipment and getting some better items for a few of my characters. NPCs told me that Gormond had threatened ship captains against bringing my party to Vinazia. A broke tavern denizen sold me a treasure map for 50 gold pieces; it refers to a bank of a river in a mountain village.
            
Gormond has apparently never heard of "Teleport."
         
I couldn't find much else to do in Galraven, so I teleported clear across the map, and slightly north, to the island of Jupiles and its castle, Ventrax. I hadn't heard much about the location in previous encounters, but it transpired that the island is "ruled" by Emperor Kuvey Lyter. Lyter used to be a friend of my father's, but the two had a falling out, and Lyter retreated to Jupiles, declaring it an independent state and allowing the practice of magic. The island successfully repelled the first few attempts to take it back, and it appears that Clesodor simply decided to let the matter go.
         
It turns out that Lyter uses the title "emperor" ironically, so it's okay.
        
The kingdom was a weird cross between Oz and a Montessori School, with meandering colorful walkways and a happy populace of "artists, free thinkers, fun seekers, wanderers, and outcasts" allowed "the freedom to grow and learn." Everyone loved Lyter and no one was unhappy to hear that Clesodor had died except Lyter himself.

The only thing Lyter wanted was knighthood, so he asked me to bring him my father's knighting sword, which I had fortunately picked up in Castle Duras. In exchange, he gave me two more "group companions"--a set of knights and a set of archers. I had to get rid of Queen Neika and Sir Valakor to accept them. This means that while I have 10 character portraits, I functionally have 22 people with me--more of a "company" than a "party." These individuals make combat easier but longer, since they're placed and act individually despite sharing a single portrait.

Lyter has been building a wall to keep out the encroaching darkness, so he asked me to find a supplier for stone and mortar. The game didn't give me an option to tell him that such a plan was both foolish and futile.
        
"Together, we might come up with less silly names for our two kingdoms."
        
I consulted the map. The final sequence of visits seemed destined to go as follows: the village of Ragmar, the village of Havenshire, Castle Vinazia, Mount Shaska, and finally the northernmost village of Arinor. I knew I would have to return to Castle Thiris to find the Scrolls of Shamar and bring them to Thornkeep before returning to Thiris again for the endgame, and I suspected there would be some other secondary "return visits" in the meantime. Also, somewhere in that sequence, I'm going to need to find the passage to Aerieus, the final realm.

Ragmar, a dilapidated, vandalized, and suspicious village, turned out to be the source of the thieves' guild who has been raiding surrounding villages. The mayor begged me to find the guild and recover the village's treasury, which they stole.
           
As we're about to see, I apparently had trouble finding the guild, too.
         
One of the NPCs was the wife of Felron, one of the prisoners I released from Monteplai. She begged me to release her husband, but the game gave me no option to tell her that I'd already done so, and I had dismissed him from my party some time ago. This reminded me to remark that a game with this many NPCs needs some central place to organize them. They just disappear when you dismiss them; they don't return to their original locations.

While I was in Ragmar, the gnome King Amarcam piped up that he had joined my party to help fight Grimnoth, not to solve all the problems of my realm. I thought it was a particularly realistic bit of NPC dialogue. I started to wonder whether I really needed the kings of the other four realms in my party, or whether their crowns were enough.
           
I'll remember that next time I waste hours on a gnomish murder mystery.
         
I took a break of a few days after my visit to Ragmar, and when I reloaded, the party was in Havenshire. I can't remember why I decided to move on from Ragmar, but I know I didn't solve the thieves' guild quest. Maybe I couldn't find them. I have vague plans to return later, I guess. 
         
A sheep gives me a new quest.
      
In Havenshire, NPC dialogue indicated that their phoenix, normally a protector, has recently gone crazy and started killing the town's livestock. It is apparently immune to regular weapons. Sure enough, every time we engaged it, it killed my party members one-by-one without suffering any damage.
         
This was a good way to remind myself who's in the party. I keep losing track.
        
One villager told of an ancient hero named Tyro who defeated the beast with the Armor of Valor, the Sword of Malokor, and the Shield of Blotgar. A farmer named Silverfox Tenderfoot said that all the talk of magic items was nonsense, and that the phoenix could be defeated by a giant who lives on Mount Shaska, "the greatest warrior ever." However, I learned from one NPC that the sword and shield were buried and the map to them entrusted to a "family of sailors that lived in a harbor village," which sounds a lot like the map I received in Galraven.
            
An NPC lays out the problem.
         
The Armor of Valor, meanwhile, was in the museum in the center of the town. The curator had hidden the artifact but agreed to give it to me if I could provide "proof that the phoenix can be stopped." I'm not sure what proof he was looking for, but I didn't have it. I thought it might be the sword and shield.
          
The king bargains for stuff he should just be able to take.
      
"South of the watersprings on the bank of the river," the map had directed. I soon found a pool alongside the bank of the river and dug to the south of it. Oddly, I found not a sword and shield but a diary of someone named Sir Creyar, who discovered that when the phoenix goes mad, it must be killed "in order for it to regenerate into a greater form." Fortunately, I kept trying and ultimately found the sword and shield more to the southeast than to the south of the fountain.
            
Does that shovel look "south" of the fountain to you?
       
Nearby, we talked to an NPC and found ourselves in conversation with the Avatar from the Ultima series, who complained of his lot in life. It ended with Chesotor telling him, "You probably have an adventure or two left in you. Rest up. Maybe we'll meet again someday." I don't know exactly what the creators were going for in this encounter. It seems too silly to be serious, too grim to be parody, too detailed to be a simple homage. Maybe they were hoping to get jobs at Origin.
             
The poor Avatar has no idea what's coming for him.
          
With the artifacts in hand, I returned to the curator, who gave me the Armor of Valor. I briefly thought of investigating the rumors of the giant, but I realized that to accept him in my party, I'd have to get rid of one of the group "characters," one of the kings, Felrid (who Cagliostra said I'd need), or one of my powerful spellcasters. I decided to deal with the phoenix myself, but I don't know what I'm going to do when I meet the King or Queen of Aerieus.

I found and attacked the Phoenix, who died in a single blow.
           
Chesotor fights the phoenix in the upper left, while the rest of the party mills around in the lower-right.
         
The curator told me to keep the magic items until I had defeated Grimnoth, then return them so the bird could be killed again when the time came. Other NPC dialogue changed to reflect the fact that I had killed the creature, which is a nice touch in this game.
            
I'm not sure I'd call the battle "epic."
        
Unfortunately, this session highlighted the exact problem I outlined at the end of the last session: it's becoming much more an adventure game than an RPG. These seven hours featured no character development and only three combats, two of them against single enemies who died almost instantly. Nonetheless, perhaps more than any other game I've played this year, I'm excited to see how the plot resolves for the young King of Alonia. I don't know about you, but I think it's time to kill my cousin.

Time so far: 29 hours

Note: I started Realms of Arkania far too early. It was irresponsible to begin it with two games already active and my time so limited by end-of-semester activities. So it's going to sit on the back burner while I wrap up Challenge and hopefully Camelot. I hope to get to the second entry on the game late next week.

32 comments:

  1. The grouped party members are certainly unique. I don't remember any other RPG having something like that. But since combat is easy anyway at this point, and they make it drag out for longer, I guess you can dump one of those grouped party members the next time you need room in your party.

    The prankster elves are also a cool idea. Usually elves tend to be modeled after the Tolkienian fashion. Long-lived, with an affinity for magic and a culture that has a certain dignity for it. Those guys are closer to the mischievous fairy style of elf. Quite cool.

    The encounter with the Avatar is eerily predictive: your character says he has one or two more adventures in him? Well, if Challenge was released after Ultima VII, there are going to be only two mainline Ultima games after that (if you count Serpent Isle as a "standalone expansion" rather than a full new entry, and if you disregard Underworld 2).

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  2. Avatar shows up quite a bit in other games... at that point, he was probably one of the most well-known PC game characters. He's the endboss in Dungeon Keeper (and you could capture him and torture him to join your side just like any other enemy, which was a nice touch :-D).

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    1. Given Ultima's position in CRPG history, I can imagine it being an easy target for parody back in the day.

      It's hard to say since I wasn't alive back then, but from Chet's writing, it seems like the only game as big as Ultima was Wizardry--which was goofy enough on its own by this point.

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    2. Wasn't it goofy from the very first game? I mean, the blade of Cuisinart...

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  3. I think Addict's writing shines in these more adventure-ous games, where it is possible to mix intradiegetic writing with breaking the fourth wall. I love it!

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    1. I was just about to write the same. Another brilliant post that was very enjoyable to read.

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  4. Small typo: "found not a sword and shield by a diary" should read "but" I thiink.

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  5. Is Turry Startide a reference to some character in particular?

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    1. It sound a bit like Theodore Sturgeon, but I fail to see a particular connection with the in-game story.

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  6. Great post. There really seem to be a lot of NPCs to keep track of. Do you have an idea how many (with relevant dialogue) you have encountered yet? Ultima VI has around 200, which I already thought to be quite a number, especially since that game has no quest log or anything to help you keep track.

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    1. Back in the day it was a spiral bound notebook... I'd start a page for each town and every occupant. I'd also start a page for every big quest, etc., as well. Still have them stuck in a box somewhere!

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    2. This game definitely exceeds that, both in quantity of NPCs and in the amount of dialogue. I'm sure it's the most dialogue-heavy RPG so far. I'd say it's the most text-heavy RPG so far except that we've played some text-RPG hybrids that probably technically take that award, but even against them, Challenge would be a contender.

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  7. Reading this post, I had some low-grade panic when I read that you'd dismissed Felron - I was thinking "wait, didn't the game tell him he *needed* to keep Felron?" Then I got further down and saw it was FelRID you needed to keep (and have kept). Whew. Kudos to you for keeping names straight that I clearly failed to.

    This does make me curious if the game would let you walking-dead yourself by dismissing a "vital" character like Felrid apparently is. Or, similarly, whether it would let you dismiss someone holding a "vital" quest item (like, I'd assume, any of the crowns).

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  8. Wasn't there a strict time limit to the game as part of the plot?

    I might have skimmed some posts but I don't remember many references to it, how is it enforced, or communicated to the player? 30 hours in, I would pretty annoyed by a sudden game over.

    Or was it something just at the beginning?

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    1. There is a time limit. It's enforced by a creeping darkness coming up from the south that slowly obliterates the map, which is why I hit those cities first.

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  9. So there might be 2 possible ways to solve the quest? That's a nice touch.

    Also, while sometimes on the nose, there seems to be many ways to get the same clue on a particular problem. That's nice too !

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  10. Just an aside, I'm neither a vegetarian nor anti-hunting for food (although I don't do it myself), but I can't believe that bullfighting is a thing.

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    1. People used to be really, really thirsty for animal blood before TV was invented. If you think bullfighting is bad, look up bear baiting, where people used to sit around and watch a helpless chained-up bear be slowly torn to pieces by dogs, many of whom also died in the attempt.

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    2. People also used to be really thirsty for human blood before the Roman empire converted to Christianity and put an end to gladiator fights. That kind of bloody entertainment switched to animals after the dominant culture considered humans stabbing each other for sport distasteful.

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    3. As a Spanish guy I cannot either believe it's a thing, and some of my loudest arguments with my parents were because of this. Hell, I even have a current family member (what's the name for son of a cousin?) who is making a career out of it and it's like having part of my DNA in a different century

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    4. On bear-baiting, I often think of a quote from Bill Bryson's book about Shakespeare's life and times: "That an audience that could be moved to tears one day by a performance of Doctor Faustus could return the next day to the same space and be just as entertained by the frantic deaths of helpless animals may say as much about the age as any single statement could."

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    5. "(what's the name for son of a cousin?) "
      Cousin once removed.

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  11. She said that in addition to the crown, we would need a symbol of "the innocence and goodness of this realm"--perhaps the horn of a unicorn.

    This was the plot of "Legend".

    Honestly I liked the goblin hero guy a lot better than Tom Cruise. And Meg Mucklebones, who didn't have much screen time but got a lot of good lines and was actually pretty scary for a man-eating monster.

    Unfortunately, unicorns will only appear to virgins.

    Hey, something incels are good for!

    Did the Woody Allen clone molest his wife's adopted child and then marry her?

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    1. I guess you don't know what Woody Allen did. He molested his wife's (Mia Farrow's) adopted Korean child. Then got caught. Then, to somehow make things better(?) he married her. That's right. This really happened. Incredibly, he still has fans. Well, what do you expect from an industry that has people who will still work with Roman Polanski. :(

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    2. I don’t believe there is any evidence that he “molested” her. They started a sexual relationship when she was 21 or 22, which, odd as it was, appears to be entirely consensual.

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    3. By my reading, the narrative most likely to fit the information regarding the alleged assault in '92 is that Allen is guilty, and given that reading, I am less inclined to accept the timeline he presents regarding his present wife. As you say though, there is nothing constituting legal evidence contrary to his/Soon's claims about their relationship.

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  12. This game seems pretty damn fun to be honest, quite surprised since it flew completely under my personal radar. I like how everybody keeps talking smack to the main character despite him being a prince of the realm.

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    1. Yeah, also Chesters writing fits well to the game.

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  13. What part of this was "written in an ancient elven language"?

    The "X", obviously.

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  14. Merry Christmas, all of you checking CRPGAddict! And if you don't celebrate, have a happy new year anyway! May we all have fun debating each other's hot takes and playing old PC games in 2020.

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    1. Merry times and happy years right back at you!

      I'll be digging into open source XCOM and PS2 games over the holidays. Good times!

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